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Zhang Ran

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1981-    ) Chinese author and former award-winning online news journalist (until 2011) whose rise to fame was coterminous with the push of Chinese authors into Anglophone publishing. For earlier work, as by Zhuxie Duowen, see below. His first work under the Zhang name, the novella "Yitai" ["Ether"] (September 2012 Kehuan Shijie; trans Carmen Yiling Yan and Ken Liu, January 2015 Clarkesworld), won a Yinhe Award. It is set in a balkanized United States, where the creep of technology has left much of the population idle, prone to consumerist fads and social media witch-hunts, unaware that the Media Landscape is entirely censored and mendacious. As with the similar "New York" of Ma Boyong's "Jijing zhi Cheng" (May 2005 Kehuan Shijie; rev trans Ken Liu as "The City of Silence" November 2011 World SF), Zhang's "America" is a veiled satire of China the day after tomorrow, where free-thinking citizens are obliged to discuss sensitive political issues using sign language rather than speech.

Published in a mainstream weekly news supplement, "Bingguan Shidai" (January 2016 Nanfang Zhoumo; trans Andy Dudak as "An Age of Ice", July 2017 Clarkesworld) is a Sleeper Awakes story in which a woman's head, cryogenically frozen in 2015, interrogates her aged daughter about the world in 2065. The Infodump is mildly hopeful; ecological and demographic issues have preceded as might be predicted, but there is a certain, touching faith in the political future. Predictions of the "If this goes on ..." nature, in the spirit of Hao Jingfang, suggest a Beijing wreathed in Pollution, where private vehicles are only allowed into town on a single day of the week, and where the population largely comprises pensioners. Then again, high-speed rail links Beijing with Kuala Lumpur. The Communist Party is still in charge, but the 70-year termination date on all real estate leases, a sword of Damocles hanging over China's real-world middle classes, is dismissed as a non-issue; everybody got to keep their land after all. However, the daughter is revealed as an unreliable narrator, keeping personal tragedies from her mother, and neglecting to mention that both of them will stand little chance in the future unless they invest in discount, black-market Cryonics overseas, and hope to ride out the worst of Pollution and the decline of capitalism.

Zhang's growing fame as a literary science fiction author led to some reappraisal of an earlier career writing pulpier works as by Zhuxie Duowen, something of an open secret after "Zhuxie's" Cyberpunk novel Yibei Panzhe Saigelaisi zhi Ming ["The Name of the Former Traitor Saigelaisi"] (2012 ebook) was repackaged as the "Xingkong Wangzuo" [Star Throne] series as by Zhang Ran. The speed of publication and sheer size of these works suggest that he, like Ye Yonglie, spent many years stockpiling stories before unleashing them on the public. Sure to create havoc among encyclopedists, Star Throne began as a sprawling, multi-part online novel, existing in at least two iterations with regular chapters and bespoke content only accessible by "VIP" subscribers, before it was repackaged under its new title. Such repurposings suggest an author still trying to orient himself within a niche that leaves him creatively satisfied, retroactively acknowledging works that were once disowned. His other online serial, the post-apocalyptic thriller Moshi de Baoshao Jiangshi Wang ["The End of the Comedy Zombie King"] (2012 ebook), does not appear to have been co-opted into his new-look bibliography.

Zhang's work thus far often comes accompanied by a metatext of explanations and qualifications. The press blurb for works as by Zhuxie Duowen seemed almost to plead with doubting readers to persevere with early chapters in order to see the full creative aims become manifest. However, his problems were not over with the switch in names, with the Anglophone publication of his "Jinyang San Chi Xue" ["Jinyang Under Three Ells of Snow"] (2014 Xin Kehuan; trans Ken Liu and Carmen Yiling Yan as "The Snow of Jinyang", June 2016 Clarkesworld) preceded by a lengthy translators' note that attempts to set the scene. Framed as a missing chapter from the medieval annal Zizhi Tongjian ["A Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance"], the story suggests that a technological Utopia founded by a time-traveller briefly rose and fell during China's wars of reunification (see History in SF) in the town that would eventually become the author's birthplace. A further footnote links it to the chuanye Time Travel genre typified by Huang Yi, but only serves to demonstrate the ongoing issues hounding cross-cultural publication – problems in comprehension do not always cease with simple translation. Other works, however, revisit the dystopia of "Ether", forming a Future History called Huise Chengbang ["The Gloomy States"], most notably with "Qifeng zhi Cheng" ["The Windy City"] (March 2013 Kehuan Shijie), which won him another Yinhe Award and lent its name to the title of his first collection.

This author should not be confused, as many online searches inevitably do, with Zhang Ran (1990-    ), a Kunqu opera performer. [JonC]

Zhang Ran

born Taiyuan, Shanxi, China: 12 December 1981


as by Zhuxie Duowen

as by Zhang Ran


Star Throne

  • Xuqu: Luanshi de Liming ["Overture: The Dawn of Chaos"] (Beijing: 17k Xiaoshuo Wang, 2012) [exp vt of Yibei Panzhe Saigelaisi zhi Ming above, part 1: Star Throne: binding unknown/]
  • Zoumingqu: Xiangnan zhi Jifeng ["Sonata: A Storm to the South"] (Beijing: 17k Xiaoshuo Wang, 2012) [exp vt of Yibei Panzhe Saigelaisi zhi Ming above, part 2: Star Throne: binding unknown/]
  • Huanxiangqu: Feihongse Jidong ["Fantasia: The Crimson Column"] (Beijing: 17k Xiaoshuo Wang, 2012) [exp vt of Yibei Panzhe Saigelaisi zhi Ming above, part 3: Star Throne: binding unknown/]
  • Jiaoxiangqu: Yongheng de Xingguang ["Symphony: The Starlight Eternal"] (Beijing: 17k Xiaoshuo Wang, 2012) [exp vt of Yibei Panzhe Saigelaisi zhi Ming above, part 4: Star Throne: binding unknown/]

individual titles

  • Qifeng zhi Cheng ["The Windy City"] (Chengdu: Sichuan Science and Technology Press, 2015) [coll of linked stories: English title Where the Wind Starts forms part of cover decoration: pb/]


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